November 20, 2023

Happy Monday.

Just one newsletter from me this week, thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.

Today's edition: 1,580 words, a 6-minute read.

1 big thing: Sony’s odd portable

PlayStation Portal. Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony has launched the PlayStation Portal, an unusual, handheld gaming machine that appears to have sold out of its first round of shipments.

Why it matters: The Portal, launched last Thursday, is a slick but limited device, a tiptoe back into handheld gaming for Sony in a world gaga over playing games on phones and Nintendo Switches.

Details: The PlayStation Portal ($199) is a "remote player," in Sony's parlance, a device that can't run games on its own but can run any that are stored on a person's PlayStation 5 console. The games are streamed to the Portal via Wi-Fi.

  • The device consists of an eight-inch, LCD screen flanked by the buttons and sticks of a PlayStation 5 controller.
  • The Portal is essentially a premium way to access the long-existing Remote Play functionality offered through Sony's consoles, whereby users can access games on their PS4 or PS5 via an app on their phone or computer.

Hands-on: The Portal ran perfectly well on the same home Wi-Fi network that my PlayStation 5 was on, allowing me to play Marvel's Spider-Man 2 in any room of my house (including, dangerously, the bathroom).

  • Games played well on the device, though some text in games such as Alan Wake II was more difficult to read on a screen that's much smaller than a TV.
  • The Portal lost a viable signal, as expected, when I left my house, about 20 paces from the front door.
  • Nintendo's pre-Switch Wii U had offered a similar remote play option, though it only used a local wireless signal that failed just a couple of rooms away from the device.

State of play: The Portal is already scarce, listed as "currently unavailable" on PlayStation's retail website.

  • On Amazon, any available stock has been cleared out. It's selling used for $400 over the list price.

Between the lines: Sony entered the handheld gaming market in December 2004 with the PlayStation Portable and exited with the discontinuation of the PSP's successor, the PlayStation Vita, in 2019.

  • Sony never managed to unseat Nintendo's spot in the handheld market, which began with the Game Boy and ran through the DS and 3DS until Nintendo merged its console and handheld lines with 2017's Switch.
  • Sony's focus on console hardware has been fruitful. Its PlayStation 4 sold more than 113 million units through 2020, and its equally hot PlayStation 5 has sold 40 million since late 2020.

The intrigue: Sony's PS Portal may not signal the full resumption of a revived line of portable PlayStation gaming devices, but its arrival is consistent with Sony's zeal to sell as many peripherals for its popular consoles as it can.

2. Scoop: Fortnite co-creator teams with Avengers directors

Donald Mustard at the 2021 Game Awards. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The next act for longtime Epic Games creative director and Fortnite mastermind Donald Mustard appears to be a senior role at AGBO, the eyebrow-raising production company started by "Avengers: Endgame" directors Anthony and Joe Russo.

Why it matters: Mustard is one of the most successful game creators on the planet, and AGBO has been signaling greater gaming ambitions.

Details: Mustard is listed as a "partner" on AGBO's website, which describes him as a "director, producer, writer and game designer" and as "the creative visionary behind some of the most profitable and groundbreaking entertainment franchises in history."

  • Neither Mustard nor AGBO have announced that he joined the company.
  • Representatives for AGBO declined to comment. Mustard did not reply to a request for comment by press time.

Catch up fast: Mustard said in September he was retiring from Epic after 15 years. He had served as chief creative officer since 2016.

  • During his run, Fortnite's battle royale become a cultural phenomenon, with more than 350 million registered players by 2020.
  • The game became known for cultural crossovers, as characters from movies, anime and other games were added as alternate looks for players' characters.
  • Mustard also led work on building dramatic, live events in Fortnite that all players would witness at the same time.

Between the lines: AGBO, which recently produced the hit movie "Everything Everywhere All at Once," hasn't made any video games.

  • But in January 2022, gaming giant Nexon purchased a 38% stake in the company for $400 million, valuing the company at $1.1 billion overall.
  • Epic has also invested in AGBO.

What they're saying: In February 2022, during a talk at the DICE gaming convention, Joe Russo said, "The focus with AGBO and our partnerships have been with video game companies."

  • He added: "The reason we did this is because we think that the chocolate and peanut butter of those two industries [film and games], when they merge properly, that's where the future of storytelling is going to lie."
  • Russo's partner for the talk was Mustard, and their topic was the future of entertainment. (The two did another joint talk in April.)

The bottom line: "Most people are just too entrenched and too risk-averse to try the crazy stuff," Mustard said during the 2022 talk.

  • "But our whole industry is built on crazy, right? And so, we're the ones who should do it."

3. Exclusive: Ubisoft suspends advertising on X

A frame of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Nexus VR video ad as it appeared on Monday morning. Screenshot: X/Axios

Ubisoft is joining Apple, Disney and other firms in pausing its ads on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, a company rep tells Axios.

Why it matters: X is facing a potential exodus of advertisers following owner Elon Musk's endorsement of an antisemitic post last week.

Details: Ubisoft has been running ads for Assassin's Creed Nexus VR, which appeared in X users' feeds as recently as Monday morning.

  • "We did have a campaign running," a Ubisoft rep told Axios. "We paused advertising on X."
  • The VR game, which is exclusive to Meta's Quest platform, was released last week.
  • The video ad had played 10 million times before it was paused, according to publicly viewable metrics on X.

4. Need to know

👀 Emmett Shear, who co-founded Twitch and left in March after a 16-year run, is OpenAI's new interim CEO, the ChatGPT company's third since the controversial ouster of Sam Altman on Friday. Microsoft hired Altman and former OpenAI president Greg Brockman late Sunday to lead its new research unit.

🤔 Harry Krueger, director of early PlayStation 5 exclusive Returnal, is leaving the Sony-owned Housemarque studio after a 14-year run, the studio announced today.

😲 The introduction of age ratings in Fortnite last week resulted in many in-game cosmetics and outfits getting slapped with restrictions that would make them unusable in the game's creator-made levels for experiences rated less than 10+. That included Agent Peely, "a banana with a gun on his ankle holster," Forbes noted.

☹️ Riot Games is shrinking its competitive League of Legends in North America by two teams, citing a "mutual decision with Golden Guardians and Evil Geniuses to exit" the league. The league's players association criticized the move, saying "the sudden loss of jobs harms our members."

🟧 Valve has updated the original Half-Life game for its 25th anniversary with a refurbished version that polishes the graphics, adds new multiplayer maps and adds some rare or previously cut content.

🧱 Infinity Ward, one of Activision's main California-based Call of Duty studios, is opening a location in Austin, Texas, its second expansion this year, VGC reports.

Editor's note: A brief item in Thursday's newsletter was corrected to include the full name of the Open Source Afro Hair Library and reflect that Dove is teaming up with the library (not supporting its creation) to come up with a downloadable guide.

5. My kids played ... WarioWare: Move It

WarioWare: Move It. Image: Nintendo

I liked but didn't love Nintendo's WarioWare: Move It, the company's new collection of absurd, seconds-long "micro-games" that each are controlled with body movements.

  • But my 6-year-olds? Read on…
  • The conversation has been condensed, but not by much.

Do you like the game?

  • Daughter: I love it.
  • Son: Yes, it's good.

Pretend I never heard of this game. Describe it to me.

  • Son: You usually move your body to make the screen see what you're doing. And the picture moves with what you're doing.

What are some things you do when you move your body in this game?

  • Daughter: Take out tissues!
  • Son: There's this [mode] where you get exercise. For real life, it does.

There's one micro-game where you give a lady a wedding ring, and one where food goes through your body, right?

  • Daughter: So, there's a waterfall. A person is holding a bucket. You go this way, then turn to the right and then turn back facing forward and you put out the fire. And you have to do it fast.

Does anyone have favorite characters?

  • Son: Wario. Because it's called WarioWare.
  • Daughter: The two twins who wanted ice cream.

Is there anything you didn't like about the game?

  • Son: It's frustrating sometimes.

How come?

  • Daughter: Sometimes it doesn't get your moves about what you're doing.

Especially the ones where you move your bum-bum?

  • Son: I always crush it.

You crush what?

  • Son: All the bum-bum games.

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🐦 Find me on Twitter or Threads, @stephentotilo.

Hoping to crush it as well.